The Importance of Writing Good Stakes. A Review of The Future of Another Timeline


The Future of Another Timeline

By Annalee Newitz

Rating: 5/5

Genre: Speculative Fiction

QUILTBAG Main Character: Yes 

QUILTBAG Minor Character: Yes

POC Main Character: No

Bechdel Test: Yes

Summary: Tess is trying to save the future. Together with a group of like-minded women, they use ancient devices to keep a group of extremist “men’s rights” activists from stripping women of their rights and their future. But when she finds herself back in 1992 at a riot grrl concert she attended in her teens, she sets out on her own separate quest. Meanwhile, after that same concert in 1992, Beth finds herself in the back of her friend’s abusive boyfriend’s car with that same ex-boyfriend dead. The future depends on these women, but sometimes the smaller changes a person makes for themselves are as important as the big changes they make for the future.

Let’s Get A Little Deep:

I am a simple woman. I like complex character development and queer girl punk music. So when I found a novel about a time traveler with a particular love for queer punk music I was eager to read. Newitz delivers a high concept story that flows in and out of multiple timelines but never loses the reader along the way. They accomplish a story about time travel that feels extremely personal and relevant to today. They do this by making the stakes both high and low, universal and personal.

Tess’s main priority, at the beginning of the book, is to save Beth. Tess spends a good chunk of the book being very vague about what fate is waiting for Beth, only that she needs to let go of a toxic friend who is leading Beth to continually make bad choices. Tess has a personal stake in Beth’s mental health, because she knew Beth back in the day. Her personal stake in what happens to her means she frequently visits the past to try and steer Beth onto a better path.

At the same time, Tess has a larger goal. She must stop a group of extremist men from setting up a future where women have no rights other than procreation. The past is not fixed in stone but every small adjustment has consequences. When a trans woman from their group is murdered, Tess goes back to stop it from happening, only to lose other threads of her future. Tess must use a light hand, but her anger at what these men are trying to do tests her limits.

For Beth, the consequences start big. She and her group of punk-loving girlfriends end up killing one of their abusive ex-boyfriends. Beth tries to believe it was self defense, that they did what they had to do to keep someone safe. But one murder soon follows another and now Beth isn’t sure if she can trust the people she’s closest to. Her choices are either to allow herself to be involved in murder or to throw away the friendships that mean the most to her.

Unlike Tess, though, Beth’s story never reaches too far outside her own hometown. With Beth,we get a deeply personal story of how sometimes knowing hints of the future help and sometimes they hurt. Beth must learn what is best for her, what is right and good in her own life while putting aside what others expect from her.

These may sound like a lot of different threads, but Newitz ties them together beautifully. Overall, it tells the story of how much pressure women put on themselves and how much society puts on them. It stresses how women (white, black, brown, trans and cis) banding together creates a history and a future that no amount of hate can conquer. 

By giving the characters both personal and universal stakes, Newitz reminds us that our actions and our choices have consequences both personal and universal. This grand, epic novel could have gotten bogged down in the big plot of making a future safe for women, but to do so without the minutiae of daily struggles for these women would not have given it the powerful punch it ultimately delivers. 

While you are reading this fantastic book, be sure to check out this music video of the book’s fake girl punk band Grape Ape that appears in the book. It’s so good it will make you wish the band was real.

Thanks for going a little deep with me! I post reviews every other Thursday. Did you love The Future of Another Timeline? Leave a comment telling me your favorite girl punk band. You can also find me on Twitter @gwasserst! Special thanks to Yasi (@yasaminnb) for editing my posts.

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